SKETCH OF THE LIFE AND REMINISCENSE OF MARY (WHERRY) MILLS
Mary Wherry, born May 1 1772, was the daughter of David Wherry and Margaret Mackey, his second wife and was a sister of Mackey Wherry, who came to St. Louis, Mo., in 1798. She was the twelfth child born to her father, and after her birth three more were added to the number. She was born in the Chester County home that had been owned by her grandfather, David Wherry, who with his wife, Mary, came with three children, in 1719, from the North of Ireland and settled in Pennsylvania on land still held by his descendants. These grandparents were buried in the old Stone graveyard at Lewisville, and a photograph of their gave and the inscription thereon accompanies this sketch; also; some pressed flowers that grew on the grave, June, 1904.
The girlhood of Mary Wherry was passed in this home, and was full of the activities of a woman's life in those days, when goods had to be manufactured as well as made up at home. Not only was the family to be provided for, but also each young girl was expected to prepare her chest of household linen, to be in readiness for her future marriage. Mary Wherry provided this in such abundance, that the writer remembers to have eaten of table-clothes and slept between sheets and under bedspreads, of which she had spun the threads and they had been woven on the Wherry homestead. This use of them was forty years after her marriage and were some that had been kept as heirlooms by her only daughter.
She was seventeen years of age, when by the marriage of her elder sisters, she was left to take their place as assistant housekeeper to her mother, and for fourteen years she held that post. In the later years, owing to the failing health of her mother, she had entire charge, although cheerfully assisted by her younger sister, Lydia, who, after Mary's marriage succeeded to the post.
Mary Wherry shared the companionship of her father in his closing years, and was the daughter in charge when he died in 1800. She was thus thrown with relatives and friends who came to see him, and from their conversations remembered many details of family history that will be referred to in the course of this sketch. Her father's only brother died before she was born; but she remembered his sister, Mrs. Lusk, as a pathetic figure, always dressed in black and mourning for her husband, who had been killed by Indians during the Revolution While passing with troops through a narrow defile, where the Indians, in addition to their other modes of warfare, rolled great rocks down upon them. Mr. Lusk was killed by one of these stones.
She remembered being sent, when five years old, with the other young children, to a farm near Chestnut Level, in Lancaster country to the care of her eldest sister, Mrs. Larimore. The British army was overrunning Chester county in their advance on Philadelphia, and the homestead was in danger. The disastrous 'Battle of the Brandywine was fought the succeeding 11th of September 1777, at Chadd's Ford.
On June 18, 1803, Mary Wherry married her first cousin, John Mills. Their mothers, Margaret and Eli nor, were sisters and they were daughters of James Mackay of Cecil County, Md., I am the owner of a family record, from which I quote: “John Mills and Eli nor Mackey was married October 16th, 1770”. It was taken from their bible when it became too worn for preservation and contains the record of the birth of their children. Their fourth child is recorded thus: "There Son John was born the 19th of June, betwixt 12 and 1 of the clock, in the morning, in the year of our Lord, 1778." It is the first record in the book where the particle “the” is used before the date, the others all having ”ye”. Another son was born after John. They had five children in all. The first child was Janet, their only daughter. John Mills, husband of Eleanor was born in Dublin but brought to this country by his parents. His widowed mother, in 1863, owned a farm adjoining the Wherry homestead, on which John and Eleanor lived. I have a picture of the ruins of this house as it appears in 1904. It is a mile and a half from the Wherry homestead. A long grave is to be seen in or near old Mount Mulick graveyard in Cecil County, that bears this inscription, "Here lyeth the body of John Mills who departed this life August ye 16th, 1745, aged, 40 years, " and probably marks the spot where the husband of the widow Mills is buried; farther investigation may show her grave.
John Mils, who married Mary Wherry, thus grew up on an adjoining farm, but he went to the Susquehanna, near the mouth of the Mahoning to establish himself, and after some time made a business connection with his older but great friend, Gen. William Montgomery with whom he entered into Partnership in manufacturing woolen goods. Mr. Mills is said to have been a natural machinist, and to have been able to take apart and put together any piece of machinery or to discover any tampering with it. This talent was a very valuable asset in the manufacturing business, as the people were very averse to the use of machinery; they claimed that it would take the bread out of honest peoples' mouths, and often injured machinery in a malicious spirit. The same feeling is described by George Eliot in "Shipley" in her description of the attack on Moore's Mill. General Montgomery has given each of his sons large farms at the mouth of the Mahoning and they all established mills or manufactures of some kind. His son, Gen. Daniel, laid out Danville on his portion, and the old General lived so near Danville where Mr. Mills resided, that the old General could on occasion, with his stentorian voice, summon Mr. Mils to his aid. Danville became the county seat in 1806, when Columbia County was created, but is now in Montour County. Upon his marriage to Mary Wherry, Mr. Mills took his wife to Danville, where their first two children were born and where they lived until 1822, with the exception of one year, 1808 or 1809, when they lived in Bloomsburgh, the same county where their third and youngest child was born. This youngest, William Mackey Mills, was named after a cousin of both Mr. and Mrs. Mills, who was born in South Carolina and was sent to Cecil county, Maryland, for his education, where he promptly fell in love with his first cousin, Marry Wherry, a sister of Margaret and Eli nor, and by his marriage with her became the uncle of both Mr. and Mrs. Mills. This uncle was a warm friend of John Mills. He moved to Northumberland where he was a neighbor and great friend of the celebrated Dr. Priestly, and Mr. and Mrs. Mills made his acquaintance and also were friends.
The manufacturing interests, after being successful, were greatly depressed after the war of 1812, by the influx of cheaper English goods and the mills were closed after a competitive struggle. This mention of goods recalls a reminiscence of Mrs. M111s, that when her father died July, 1801 the stock of black goods. in the country was so depleted by the national mourning for General Washington, who died six months before, that it was almost impossible for the family to get mourning goods to wear.
In 1822, Mr. and Mrs. Mills decided to move West with their family. They had not fully determined where they would settle, but rather expected it would be near Cincinnati, Ohio. They left Danville, May 22, 1822, en route to Pittsburgh, in a two-horse wagon. Before reaching Pittsburgh, at a hotel in the Allegheny Mountains, they met Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Perry, of Potosi, MO., who were friends of Mrs. Mills' brother, Mackey Wherry, of St. Louis, Mo. The conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Perry decided Mr. and Mrs. Mills that they would continue on to St. Louis, and from this hotel the two parties traveled together to Pittsburgh. Mr. Perry had with him several young men who were coming to take clerkships, some of whom Mrs. Mills' daughter met again forty years after in St. Louis. At Pittsburgh Mrs. Mills and her daughter took the stage for Washington, Pa., where Mrs. Mills brother Joseph lived. This half-brother, her father's child by his first marriage, had married the youngest sister of his father's second wife. She was Rachel Mackey, sister of Margaret and Eli nor and was an aunt of both Mr. and Mrs. Mills, which formed a close and rather peculiar relationship. The children of Joseph and Rachel called Mrs. Mills “cousin-auntie”. Joseph and Rachel had lived many years on this farm on Charter’s Creek, where seven of a their eight children were born - their eldest child is said to have been born before they moved to Washington County, but they were now living Washington, and their daughter Jane (Mrs. Hervey) lived on the farm. Most of the children of Joseph and Rachel died early in life. I think one son attained maturity, or very near it, and then died, but only three of their children married -all daughters, Jane, b. 1787, married Francis Hervey; Margaret, b. 1794, married James Kerr, and Mary, b. 1800, married her first cousin, Joseph Gilchrist.
After this visit, Mrs. Mills and her daughter, accompanied Mrs. Wherry again took the stage and went to Wheeling to visit Mr. and Mrs. John Reed, who had moved there from New London, Chester County, Pa., only the year before. Mrs. Reed was Mrs. Wherrys’ niece also, and a sister of Mrs. Mills. At Wheeling, they were joined by Mr. Mills and his two sons, one who had obtained keel-boats, in which they were to descend the Ohio. Mr. Mills wished to take a steamboat at Louisville, Ky., for St. Louis, but by Mr. Perry's advice did not do so. 1822 was a very unhealthy year and there was much sickness at Louisville. As they might be detained some days waiting for a boat, it was considered best to continue in the keel-boats.
From the mouth of the Ohio up, they sailed when the wind was favorable, and at other tines were cordelled. Mrs. Mills' brother, Mackey Wherry of St. Louis, heard they were coming and went in a carriage down to the mouth of the Merrimac River to meet them; not finding them there, and being unable to cross the Merrimac he drove back to Carondelet (now a part of the City of St. Louis) where he left his carriage, took a canoe and two Frenchmen to row and went down the river to meet them. When Mrs. Mills heard that her brother was approaching, the went forward, but hearing him directing the boatmen in French, she thought it could not be her brother - but it was; and one can't fancy the joyous meeting between the sister and brother, who had parted in their father's house twenty-five years before.
They reached Carondelet too late at night to drive to St. Louis and Mrs. Mills passed her first night in Missouri in an old French Tavern in Carondelet. The next morning, July 4, 1822, they drove into St. Louis. Mr. Wherry lived at that time in a house on Main Street, owned by Gov. McNair, who was then Governor of the state and living in a brick house he had built years before he was elected governor. This old house appears often in the public prints pictured in a state of extreme dilapidation and labeled as the residence of the first governor of Missouri. It was in 1822 a comfortable and well appearing house, and was after that was occupied by many prominent people. Mrs. Mills spent the first winter in this house while her husband was looking around.
In February 1828, Mr. and Mrs. Mills moved to Gallatio Place, where they lived one year. It is now in the City, but was then a suburban place, and here Mrs. Mills entertained most hospitably the friends she had made in her new home. She has been described to me as most genial and entertaining, a most capable housekeeper, whose butter and cream were of most perfect excellence, and her cookery was to be emulated but never achieved, all conducted with such ease that it was a delight to be her guest. Only a few weeks ago, I visited an old lady whose bother was a Missouri neighbor of Mrs. Mills, at the more permanent home to which Mrs. Mills moved the next February, which was in 1824. This old lady told me that her mother had told her a great deal of Mrs. Mill’s many virtues and especially of her kindness to her neighbors in times of sickness. Opening up the new country produced malaria and fever and there were no trained nurses in those days, outside of those who had learned by experience in their own homes. Mrs. Mills was one of these, and this lady said it was no unusual thing for Mrs. Mills, when entering a neighbor's house and finding a case of acute illness, to take off her bonnet and say: I will stay with you to long as you need help - just send some one home with my horse and a note.
Mr. Wherry had bought at an executor’s sale a Spanish Grant that was still unimproved - there in a quaint old deed that described this land as lying on the River Fi-Fi (pronounced as if written fee-fee) and is now called Fee-Fee Creek. Mr. Mills and his sons decided to improve this place in partnership with Mr. Wherry, and were making preparations for this while on the Gallatin place. They first put up a log cabin to live in while building a larger house. This cabin was of rough construction, with puncheon floor, and bunks built at the sides to sleep in. It was expected. that it would be taken down as soon as the larger house was built, but it proved so useful as an office or den for the young men of the family that it was kept standing in the yard until 1843. While living in this cabin Mr. Mills was taken sick February, 1824, and was never but once off the place. Things were made more comfortable for him, but he had not the strength for a pioneer life, and died September 8, 1824, being buried in the family graveyard of a near neighbor, whose grand-daughter was the lady who so lately talked to me of his wife.
The larger house was completed and Mary (Wherry) Mills moved in with her family. The house was of hewn logs with four rooms, with kitchen, pantry, and hallway between the main house and the kitchen. The entrance to the house was marred inside by a cumbersome staircase ascending to the second floor, which was a great grievance in the eyes of Mary Mill s' daughter, until one day, many years after, a cousin visiting an old home in Virginia, found a pillow case of old family letters. She sent me some, and I read many more which this cousin kept for herself. One of those sent to me was from Mary Wherry Mills to her sister, Mrs. Reed. In this she spoke of her home and its comforts, especially dwelling on the added comfort of this staircase, saying that at first they could not find a carpenter who could build stairs and their only way to reach the upper floor had been by a ladder. We could quite agree with her that the stairway was an improvement.
Mrs. Mackey Wherry died in St. Louis, August 8, 1826, and after her death, Mr. Wherry cared no longer to live in town, so he gave up his business and retired to his farms where the ensuing three years of his live were passed in close companionship with his sister. The conversations of Mrs. Mills and her brother over the recollections of their kindred and their old home in Chester County, impressed these recollections upon the mind of Mrs. Mills' only daughter, who in later years became my step-mother and handed the traditions over to me. Mrs. Mills lived on this farm until August 22, 1835, when she died, aged 83. She and her brother, whose families have since been so closely interwoven, were buried side by side in a family graveyard now disused.
The youngest son of Mrs. Mills was married the year before she died, to Miss Catherine Margery Lackland of Maryland, who vas visiting her uncle, James Lackland of Florissant, St. Louis County. The wedding took place in a quaint old house that had been built in Spanish days for the residence of the Spanish Commandant. It was owned at the time by John Mullanphy, a St. Louisan of note, whose family had occupied it many years. He rented it to Mr. Lakeland. The house was handsomely decorated (as we say in these days). There was a large French mirror set in the plastering of the long parlor or drawing room in which the marriage took place. Long years after I saw the bride's initials cut by her diamond ring on a pane of a window that lighted the stairway.
Three children were born to this marriage: John Wherry Villa, and twin daughters Catherine Marguerite and Mary Catherine. All died in infancy, the little boy lived only one month, and the twins nearly seven months, one dying February 19, and the other February 22, 1839. The young wife and mother died in St. Charles, Mo., on July 25, 1838, within twenty-four hours after the birth of her twin children. She died the same day and hour that Dr. Wherry's first wife died in Helena, Arkansas. William Mills did not marry again. He died in St. Louis, Mo., April 16, 1841, aged 88.
Mrs. Mill's eldest son, James k. Mills, married in 1843 Miss Mary Threkald, niece of Gov. Morehead of Kentucky. They had no child. Mr. Mills was associated with his cousin, Boone Wherry, in business in Gasconade County, Mo., at the head of the navigation of the Gasconade River. They had mills of various kinds and a store for supplies. The point on the river is known as “Wherry Mills."
He moved afterwards to St. Louis County, and lived some years at the farm. Then moved to Monroe County, Mo. where he died February 28, 1875, greatly loved and respected. His widow died some years after. Mrs. Mills’ only daughter, Margaretta, married October 20, 1843, her first cousin, Dr. Mackey Wherry, was a widower with two daughters. They had but one child, a lovely and precocious little girl whom she permitted her step-daughter to name. She gave her the name of Mary Sydnie; Mary for the child's grandmother Mills, and Sydnie for Dr. Wherry's first wife, who had named her first child Margaretta for her husband’s cousin whom she greatly loved. This lovely little child eras born June 2, 1846, and died suddenly of a congestive chill, September 14, 1848. The following lines were written soon after her death by her eldest sister in loving memory of her short life: They were first Published in the Richmond VA Enquirer:
The four grandchildren of Mary (Wherry) Mills died in infancy, and she has no living descendant; but there are five Wherry descendants who owe her loving respect and memory for her own daughter stood to them in the relation of mother, giving them all the loving care and sympathy that their own mothers could have given, if they had not been removed by death.
She had been only six weeks married, when three little nephews of Dr. Wherry were left orphans by the death of their mother. She had been much with their parents who loved her dearly and she had named the youngest child, then 20 months old for her father. These boys were double cousins of Dr. Wherry s children, his first wife being their mother's sister. They were not left dependent save for love and parental affection, and this Dr. Wherry and his wife promised the. dying mother that their sons should receive in their home. At their mother's request these children, the eldest six years old, were taught to call Dr. and Mary Wherry father and mother and his daughter’s sisters and were brought up as one family.
Of the personal appearance of Mary Mills, we have no description. Her children were all tall and fine looking. Her daughter had beautiful black eyes and an abundance of very black hair, which in her old age became snowy white. She had a dignified and gracious manner that adorned any position, and was loved and honored by her foster-children, and their children, and she passed to her reward March 25, 1890, 83 years and one day.
There still remain some reminiscences of Mary (Wherry) Mills that have not been told. She spoke of a cousin James Wherry who used to visit them, who was called by the children “Octorara Jim," to distinguish him from her eldest brother James. This cousin has been thought to have been her first at cousin, the ancestor of Mr. Crawford, of our Committee on Reunion, but some things recently discovered seem to point to his being a cousin of more distant kinship in this matter. We expect to soon receive more knowledge.
Another reminiscence is of her saying that in her father’s second family in which there were nine children, three of them had white hair, three black and three red. I have not been able to pick these out, and imagine that this great diversity was in early childhood when hair that afterward turns black is often very white. Mackey Wherry had black hair, as did his three sons, and three grandsons, and his great grandsons who bear the Wherry name are decidedly brunette. A member of the Armstrong county Wherrys once wrote me that he thought there were two families of Wherrys--the blonde and the brunette - but I have not been able to establish this. His family was brunette, and I think that is the more general color.
Mrs. Mills spoke of the hospitality of her father's house and of his interest in Church and State. He was for many years an Elder in the Rock Presbyterian Church, and his house was a "preacher's home. She told of her brother William, next older to her, complaining that all his spare time was spent escorting preachers back and forth. This duty, however trying at the time, seems to have been blessed in its effects, for this brother William, in time succeeding the homestead, was for many years an honored Elder in the same church, and kept up the hospitable customs and at the age of eighty-four was "gathered to his fathers." This William Wherry built the present Wherry homestead in Chester county, which is now occupied by his grandchildren.
Among other hospitalities Mrs. Mills told of her father taking into his family two old ladies, members of his church who were left friendless, and caring for them until they died, their funerals being from his house. This was late to his life when many of his children had gone to their own homes. The old homestead in Chester County is shaded by an immense sycamore tree. In 1819-20, Mrs. Mills' daughter spent a year in Chester County at her uncle William's. This tree was then of good size, and she was told that it had been. planted by her mother before her marriage. She had been riding on horseback and the switch was out for her; on her return, she had planted the switch and it at once took root.
On May 22d, 1875, Cousin Joseph Wherry, son of William, wrote to me sending me a copy of the family records, for which I had asked. I quote from this letter, “I am still living at the old homestead, under the shade of an old sycamore, planted by my aunt, Mary Mills." I replied to this, that I had often heard of that tree, as Mary Mills' only daughter was my father's second wife. Cousin Joseph again wrote, 'November 13, 1875: “I was somewhat surprised when you said your father's second wife was my cousin Margaret Mills. I do not think I have heard of her since she left here (March, 1820). I send with this a leaf from the old tree, and some ferns from the old place. The sycamore is quite a large tree; measures some 15 feet in circumference, one foot from. the ground, and is 80 or 90 feet in height. The leaf and ferns were placed in my mother's herbarium and still have them.”
At one time we had some of our West Virginia relations dining with us, when one of the Reed cousins spoke of a romance connected with the tree. There were some young girls in the party and they pleaded for the story and she told this: Mrs. John Mills, then Mary Wherry, was riding with others towards her home; her escort was Mr. John Mills. During the ride they became so engrossed by conversation and rode so slowly they were left far behind. Suddenly Mary Wherry realized how late it must be and that she ought to be at home, whereupon to hurry matters Mr. Mills cut the historic switch and they made all possible haste. They were received with much merriment; the switch especially caused much mirth in connection with their tardy arrival, and amid their banter Mary Wherry planted the switch, now grown into a tree over one hundred feet high.
My mother gave me very many recollections of the year she spent at the Chester homestead: of the old square pew in Rock Church, of the children walking to the corner where Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland meet and getting down on their knees and stretching out their arms so as to be in three states at once, and of old houses, especially the James 'Mackay house, and the garret stored with old-fashioned dresses and furbelows. Her paternal grandmother lived many years with John and Mary Mills at Danville, and my mother gave me several of her belongings: an old fan, her wedding ring, the record from her family bible. We still have these. Time fails for giving these reminiscences. I must perforce await another time, and with this page I close my account of Mary (Wherry) Mills, her reminiscences, and her family, that I have written for the Wherry Reunion, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, at St. Louis, July 20, 1904.
(This document was with a number of documents concerning the Wherry family genealogy that came from the Wherry family history meeting in St. Louis, MO in 1904. There is no mention of the name of the author in this document. The document was scanned using Caere OmniPage Pro 10.0 and edited by John Richardson Wherry March 20, 2004.)